Gov Davis Makes Education Top Priority For California
By Rob Gunnison, Special to Stateline
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California is about to embark on a new way to run public education.
Gray Davis, the state's new Democratic governor, has signed four bills he proposed in January, when he called a special session of the Legislature to deal with what he calls his "first, second and third priority" public education.
Although rewritten, sometimes substantially, by the Democratically controlled Legislature, the bills are largely what Davis sought a high school exit examination, an early grades reading program, statewide ranking of school performance, and a peer review system to evaluate teachers.
The measures were opposed in varying degrees by both school administrators and teachers unions, but with Davis' wide victory in the November election over Republican Dan Lungren, the new governor held the whip hand.
Although California has a largely decentralized system of public education, the state, which pays most of the bills, has in recent years increasingly dictated how schools will be run. Former Governor Pete Wilson initiated such changes as a class-size reduction program for early grades and tougher curriculum standards.
Davis has shown no sign that he will ease Sacramento's hold on schools. "The governor's proposals mostly come from the perspective that the state knows best and will impose solutions," said the state's legislative analyst, Elizabeth Hill. "We're coming from the perspective the state should set the goals and locals should have the flexibility to adjust to their own circumstances."
Now that the bills are signed, Davis has shown no indication that he will drop education as an issue. At a press conference to mark his 100th day in office, Davis said he will seek to make public service a requirement of graduation (as it is in Maryland) from public universities and community colleges, and eventually high schools.
"If you don't understand how fortunate you are to be in America in 1999, then you haven't read history and what has transpired to allow you to have that good fortune," Davis said. "One of the ethics of the World War II generation was a sense of obligation to the future, and an appreciation for what they inherited. That is getting away from us,"
The new laws mean big changes for California school districts, starting this year.
California will become the first state to require that school districts use teachers to evaluate the performance of their colleagues. Until now, the system has been used in only a handful of cities.
The new law sponsored by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles, requires districts to negotiate and implement peer review with teachers unions by July 1, 2001. There are financial incentives for earlier implementation.
Teacher-administrator panels chosen by their peers will observe teachers, evaluate their performance and help teachers improve their skills. Results will be shared with the school principals as part of teacher evaluations. Schools that refuse to take part will lose access to certain state aid money.
Also starting in June 2000 will be the state's new "Academic Performance Index," established in a bill by Senator Dede Alpert, D-Coronado.
The index will rank schools by decile, and compare their target annual growth rate with actual growth, and with schools with similar characteristics, like pupil mobility, ethnicity, family income, and percentage of English speakers.
The state also will invite 430 schools that perform below the 50th percentile on a statewide test to take part in a program in improve performance. With grant money, the schools will hire an outside evaluator to develop an improvement plan. Schools with state-approved plans will get an extra $200 per pupil from the state to make changes.
Schools still failing after two years would be subject to takeover by the state, reassignment of administrators, and even closure after a state hearing. Schools that meet improvement goals will receive an extra $150 per pupil in state aid.
A third Davis-signed bill will require for the first time that high school graduates pass a state-written "exit examination" beginning in 2004. The bill was written by Senator Jack O'Connell, D-San Luis Obispo.
Like the peer review system, the test requirement was pushed back a year by legislators who said Davis was trying to go to quickly. The test will include such topics as algebra and geometry, even though not all high school pupils currently take those subjects.
The last bill, by Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni, D-San Rafael, This bill establishes and a $94 program. The largest chunk of money pays for reading instruction in early grades of four hours per day for six continuous weeks.